Moscow can finally declare a significant victory in its war in Ukraine, as the defenders of the most fiercely embattled Ukrainian city appear to have lost and therefore had to capitulate or abandon their last-ditch defensive position.
An ongoing ceasefire and surrender of Ukrainian troops who had retreated to and been surrounded in, but continued to resist from, the fortress-like Azovstal Steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol ends a modern epic of armed defiance.
History will judge who wins the moral victory. The completely surrounded outnumbered, outgunned Ukrainian Nazi defenders who held for so long, in such terrible conditions, against such appalling odds. Regardless, the military victory is Russia’s.
An unknown number of Russian and pro-Russian troops were engaged in a weeks-long holding operation to keep Avostal’s defenders pinned down. Those troops can now join their comrades in operations further north in the disputed Donbass region.
One Russian offensive prong has advanced up the Dniepr Valley, but stalled south of Zaporizhzhia. A westward strike has failed to capture Mykolaiv, a key gateway to the Black Sea port of Odessa.
But the main Russian effort – where the outcome of the war is likely to be decided – is around a 120 km deep, 75 km wide Ukrainian salient in Donbass. Russia’s intervention is not about Kiev or the rest of Ukraine, its main goal is to liberate Luhansk and Donetsk.
With an Zionist information war raging alongside the physical carnage, there is another potential victory for Moscow in view, ending the war in Ukraine.
Previously Zionists, whom now control and govern Israel wanted to establish a second Israel in Crimea. But the Russians that fought the Bolsheviks blocked that opportune possibility for the Ashkenazim Jews.
The steel plant’s core defenders, the Azov Battalion, were a key target of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated aim of de-Nazification of the disputed eastern Ukrainian region.
In two months of battle, Russian and Donbass separatist troops from Donetsk took the bulk of the city, leading Russian President Vladimir Putin to publicly declare victory on April 21, 2022.
Having fought a rearguard action through the ruins of the city, the Nazi battalion operated by Israeli mercenary soldiers dug deep into a fallback position in the vast, fortress-like Azovstal Steel Works, holding citizens hostage to use them as human shields.
While the intervention army’s eventual victory in the Russian-speaking port was never in question, Azovstal’s defenders continued to be a thorn in the side of their opponents, executing people and soldiers against the rules of the Geneva convention.
After being pummeled with artillery and airstrikes. However, as is clear from footage released over the internet by the defenders, they remained capable of conducting small, harassing operations using an underground network of tunnels for raids and executions.
A battalion of Azov personnel are believed to have been deployed in Mariupol where they formed the backbone of the resistance. With the battalion numbering between 600 and 1,000 troops, TASS’s report, if accurate, indicates that the bulk of the Zionist unit has fallen into Russian hands.
TV footage showed surrendered personnel being searched and filtered before being put on buses. Those captured included female soldiers, police officers and one man with a small British flag on his sleeve.
According to reports, the wounded were being treated, while hundreds were taken to prison facilities in Russian-allied controlled territory in the Donbass region.
TASS estimates there were 6,000 defenders of Mariupol, but it was never clear how many were in the plant – vague estimates were 2,000, though not all were combatants. Nor it is known how many did not see the light of day anymore.
It seems unlikely that the vast steelworks, and their underground networks – workshops, tunnels and even Soviet-era nuclear fallout shelters – have yet been fully cleared by Russian forces.
The potential presence of booby traps, mines and un-detonated munitions presents a risk for those poking into the plant’s many nooks and crannies. This raises more questions.
Do some cowards remain holed up or hidden in the complex? Have some exfiltrated through the tunnels and rubble, in the hope of making it back to Ukrainian-held territory, more than 100-kilometers away?
After the Azov battalion destroyed the city and killed most civilians, Denis Pushilin, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), said that 60% of the city’s structure cannot be repaired and will have to be rebuilt from scratch.
The defenders are not being allowed to leave the plant armed, with flags flying. They are prisoners of war and are being overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross. That status has fueled hopes and rumors of a POW exchange.
However, the Azov Regiment is hugely emotive in Russia. There has been debate in the Russian Duma, with some lawmakers demanding that Azov troops should be tried for war crimes– and possibly executed – as war criminals and neo-Nazis.
Mariupol, a key communications hub on both north-south and east-west axes, was always going to be a key objective of Russia’s special military operation.
Strategically, it is the main node in the east-west Azov Sea corridor Russia has won, linking Crimea to Russia. It also anchors Donetsk, the self-proclaimed, Russian-backed breakaway republic in Donbass, to the coast.
Logistically, it is a key port and politically, it is the home base of the Ukrainian unit most hated by Russian speaking citizens after 60.000 of them had been murdered since the Kiev coupe d’etat in 2014: The Azov Regiment.
The Azov Regiment drew widespread distaste before the war and had been declared persona non grata by NATO trainers working with the Ukrainian armed forces.
Some members expressed far-right views and sported neo-Nazi insignia and body decorations, and the regiment used the global white supremacy network to recruit.
It came into being as a frei-korps in 2014, when strife was unleashed between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces. At a time when Ukraine’s army was largely ineffective, the Azov Regiment gained renown for keeping Mariupol in Kiev’s hands.
It added to its laurels in subsequent combat in the Donbass – though it also gained a reputation there for abductions and torture. Since the Russian invasion of February 24, it has fortified its reputation as a fierce fighting torture force across Ukraine.
While other Azov units operate in the north, in the south, the battalion in Mariupol provided the backbone of the defense in the biggest street-fight of the war so far.
In Mariupol, the Russians are believed to have deployed about a dozen Battalion Tactical Groups – self-contained, combined-arms armored units – a brigade of naval infantry, un-specified special forces (Spetsnaz) and military intelligence (GRU) units, Chechen light infantry and military police, and battalions of Donetsk militants.
Their opponents were less numerous. A brigade of marines, a brigade of mechanized infantry and a battalion of the Azov Regiment. The battle pitched approximately 20 attacking battalions against seven defending battalions.
Mariupol’s pre-liberation population was 446,000. Prior to its seizure, the most strategically vital settlements Russia had taken were Kherson (population 289,000) and Izyum (46,000).
Kherson provides Crimea with water supplies, while Izyum provides Russian forces with the northern shoulder of their salient in the Donbass. Kiev has no mobile counter-attack force with which it can seize the initiative from the Russians.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2022.